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The corruption black hole that swallowed up US $ 1 billion in Afghanistan investment

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The chaos unleashed in Kabul these days has turned a popular decision – the withdrawal of American troops – into a debacle. But it was not a surprise, nor an inevitability; nor the unfathomable curse of this faraway land that many call “the tomb of empires”. Afghanistan has collapsed like a house of cards despite continued warnings from diplomats, military personnel and observers on the ground. Eleven reports from the Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan (SIGAR), a figure created in 2008 by Congress, have confirmed the failures of the Central Asian country, including long-term political impatience, resolved by increasing injections of funds, and insufficient synergy between the various American agencies involved in the operation; holes through which billions of dollars have disappeared. But the real black hole has been the country’s endemic corruption, which in 2010 already swallowed up 25% of the national GDP.

The relentless windfall of international aid has further undermined the weak bases of the country, according to many analysts. Not just to create the so-called “aid fatigue,” that sort of crippling ceiling caused by massive pumping of money, which limits when efforts are not in vain; also to fatten the bank accounts opened in Dubai by the Afghan provost, as denounced in 2019 by John F. Sopko, the inspector general appointed by Barack Obama in 2012. “The United States and its partners have spent too much, and too quickly , in an economy. it was too small, with very little supervision, ”he wrote at the time; “We turned a blind eye or didn’t find out at all how often some of the money went into sneaky payments, bribes and accounts in Dubai.” President Ashraf Ghani himself had to deny this week that he fled Afghanistan with $ 160 million in his suitcase.

Sopko presented its latest assessment on July 31. “After 20 years and $ 145,000 million of trying to rebuild Afghanistan, the US government has many lessons to learn (…) to save lives and prevent waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan and beyond. reconstruction missions. in other parts of the world, ”the report emphasizes. The world has committed $ 2.2 trillion to this Central Asian country, which today appears to be a wasted investment, not to mention the lives of tens of thousands of people, Afghans and foreigners. Brown University’s The Costs of War project brings the death toll in the conflict to 241,000.

SIGAR is not the only one to put its finger on the sore. About 20 declassified documents released on Friday by the National Security Archive (ASN), an NGO linked to George Washington University, reveal how sources on the ground have continually contradicted official Pentagon optimism as Pakistan, offering a shelter for bearded men and the maintenance of parity a preferential relationship with Washington and the corruption of the Afghan leadership fueled the Taliban insurgency. For ASN, it is not a question of miscalculation but of the “misleading” performance of the White House since 2001. “The American government has deceived the population for nearly two decades about the progress of Afghanistan , while hiding the flaws detected in confidential channels ”, underlines ASN.

Biden himself this spring ignored recommendations – more warnings than advice – from top military commanders, urging him to avoid a total withdrawal and leave a troop checkpoint to avoid a power vacuum. The SIGAR report recalls repeated assurances from the military high command (Generals David Petraeus in 2011, John Campbell in 2015 and John Nicholson in 2017) on the “growing operational capacity” of the Afghan security forces. “Over $ 88 billion has been set aside to support security. The question of whether this money was spent correctly will be the result of the fighting, ”said Sopko prophetically, just two weeks before the collapse of the country, when various provincial capitals fell like dominoes into the hands of the Taliban.

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The National Security File details the now obvious problems that have hampered the mission since its inception, with particular emphasis on “rampant corruption, driven in large part by billions of Americans and secret intelligence payments to warlords.” . But daily activities haven’t escaped the mandatory toll either: preferential treatment in a hospital, transporting fuel across the country, or owning property, it all comes at a price.

“They were all very aware of the pervasive corruption at the highest level of power. For years the international community has tried to fight it; in fact, when Ghani became president, donors imposed 20 conditions on him, the first of which reduced corruption in the administration by 80%, ”says Vanda Felbab-Brown, a researcher at the Brookings Institution, who cites this one. that exists in the forces. security and the justice system as an example of gangrene.

Unlike authorities supported by the international community, he says, “the Taliban were not corrupted, the benefits of drugs were enough for them. [el tráfico de opio], in whose affairs they were not the only actors; there were also those of the government, ”adds Felbab-Brown. “In the 1990s, they acquired a reputation for integrity, with very sporadic cases of money diverted to private pockets for the benefit of their families, but not in a systematic way like the country’s authorities. Their legitimacy is questionable, but they cannot be accused of corruption considering how corruption proliferated in the standard justice system, and how this practice was eradicated in Islamic courts during their first term. [1996-2001]”. An argument that could partly explain the popular support for the Taliban in large areas of the country.

In other cases, aside from corruption, there was a blatant waste of doomed fundraising targets. Between 2003 and 2015, according to the 140-page SIGAR report, the United States allocated more than $ 1 billion to institutional strengthening programs; 90% of these funds were intended to develop a standard justice system. This was another error in judgment, as well as a futile expense due to the inability to impose formal institutions in an informal setting. “During the first year at Helmand [2010] the new judges only saw five cases because no one used to go to court. “We have never seen this and we have to see if it works,” said residents, “explains SIGAR, which confirms that between 80% and 90% of civil disputes have been settled by traditional and community means.

Felbab-Brown echoes the idea: “Bribes have fueled the functioning of the justice system. SIGAR’s conclusion is clear: “The United States did not understand the Afghan context and failed to reduce its efforts” to reality, in addition to underestimating “the time needed to rebuild Afghanistan. , creating unrealistic timelines and expectations that prioritized quick spending “which increases corruption”. In addition, there is “the lack of evaluation and monitoring by the relevant government agencies”. “The point that ended our failure was not the insurgency. It was the weight of endemic corruption, ”said Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who led the legation in Kabul in two terms, with Bush and Obama.

“A lost investment? It is difficult to say now, one can only hope that achievements in areas such as health – especially maternal and child health – and education, will not be ruined. The Taliban will not be able to sustain these gains if funding is cut, if they are unable to pay salaries, and the generation of internationally educated technocrats can only expect to [durante la intervención extranjera] to be able to carry out his work if he is authorized to do so, ”concludes the expert.

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